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Friday, December 25, 2015

It's Christmas Time...To Think About Temporality

Photo: Patrick Stokes
"Well, it’s that time of year again – and there it is; just four words into an article on Christmas I’ve used the word ‘time.’" summarizes Patrick Stokes, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Deakin University.

Christmas time - Christmas celebration.

Among the hodge-podge of rituals and holidays that survive in the post-Christian West, Christmas might just be the one that tells us the most about how humans relate to and experience temporality.

Christmas, narrative,and repetition 
That might sound like a strange claim. After all, we have other yearly rituals that seem to be much more explicitly concerned with time. Birthdays are staging posts on our journey from childhood to youth to middle age to dotage. (The Canadian public intellectual John Ralston Saul wrote that where once we sang the Latin Mass over the born, the living, the dying, and the dead to mark their passage through this vale of tears, now we make do with ‘Happy Birthday’).

New Years Eve is a time when we tend to take stock of a year that’s gone and make resolutions for the year to come. The resolutions don’t usually stick, admittedly, but that’s not really the point. What matters is the sense of narrative coherence – of what Ricoeur, drawing on Aristotle, calls our ‘emplotment’ - that we give to the time of our lives through such resolutions.

Christmas, by contrast, isn’t cumulative in the way that birthdays and anniversaries are. We do have first Christmases with babies, last Christmases with the gravely ill, and first Christmases without the departed; but otherwise Christmas doesn’t seem to mark passage and development in the same way. You might be celebrating, say, your 42nd birthday next year, but I doubt you’re thinking of this as your 41st Christmas.

Even in stories where some sort of personal conversion happens at Christmas, the festival is more stage setting than essential plot point. You can imagine Scrooge’s encounter with ghosts, or an epiphany that makes the Grinch’s heart grow three sizes, happening at any time of the year without it throwing the narrative logic of the story out too much.

Each individual Christmas is, in a sense, self-contained. Christmas is connected to the past via traditions, but taking part in these traditions doesn’t focus on their past but on their present. They’re what Kierkegaard calls a ‘repetition’ in his somewhat specialised sense: whereas recollection is ‘repeating backwards’, repetition is ‘repeating forwards.’ We don’t merely relive past Christmases; we do Christmas anew each year.

Earlier each year? 
And I don’t think I’m alone in saying it feels like the repetition keeps accelerating. I don’t just mean that shops put their Christmas (and Easter) paraphernalia out earlier each year, though I’m more than happy to complain about that.

Rather it seems like time itself is getting faster and faster.
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This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Source: Science 2.0

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